15.2202, Review: Sociolinguistics: Muthwii & Kioko (2004)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-15-2202. Tue Aug 3 2004. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 15.2202, Review: Sociolinguistics: Muthwii & Kioko (2004)

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Date:  Mon, 2 Aug 2004 17:01:27 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Angela Bartens <angela.bartens at helsinki.fi>
Subject:  New Language Bearings in Africa. A Fresh Quest

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Mon, 2 Aug 2004 17:01:27 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Angela Bartens <angela.bartens at helsinki.fi>
Subject:  New Language Bearings in Africa. A Fresh Quest

EDITORS: Muthwii, Margaret Jepkirui; Kioko, Angelina Nduku
TITLE: New Language Bearings in Africa
SUBTITLE: A Fresh Quest
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2004
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-1592.html

Angela Bartens, University of Helsinki


As stated by Muthwii and Kioko in their editorial (pp. 1-9), the
issues most relevant to the discussion of present-day developments in
the use of languages in Africa are (1) the effects of language
policies adopted since independence, (2) language attitudes, (3)
literacy dilemmas, (4) challenges in the language classroom, and (5)
the relationship between language and economic development, and the
continent's response to globalisation (p. 1 and ff.). The issues are,
of course, intrinsically related and mostly it is all about the
perpetuation of (neo- )colonialism vis-à-vis African indigenous
languages, but as several authors of the volume under survey argue,
the actual situation of colonial languages such as English is not as
straightforward as one might expect when consulting a list of the
official languages of Sub- Saharan Africa. While studies on language
policy and language attitudes in Sub-Saharan Africa have been
available to the larger academic audience for some time now (cf. e.g.,
various studies by Bamgbose, e.g. 1991, 2000), the fields of research
on literacy, language teaching and the effects of globalization and
overall empowerment (socioeconomic, cultural, linguistic) are going
through a phase of major expansion.


The volume under survey consists of twelve papers (in addition to the
editorial) dealing with the afore-mentioned issues. Felix Banda
reports on his research on literacy practices in Black and Coloured
Communities in South Africa (''A survey of Literacy Practices in Black
and Coloured Communities in South Africa: Towards a Pedagogy of
Multiliteracies'', pp. 10-33). Considering that multilingualism is a
resource and that everyday literacies constitute a stepping stone to
academic literacies, Banda investigated the literacy practices of a
South African student population drawing from the population groups
formerly defined as Black and Coloured. Major findings of the study
were that Coloured students have had more exposure to literacy events
than their Black fellow students. The urban-rural dichotomy works in
the same sense. English is the preferred language of literacy for all
groups as it is perceived as a literacy of power but this does not
mean that positive attitudes towards English translate into negative
attitudes towards African languages. On the other hand, this paper,
too, confirms an independent observation that the image of Afrikaans
badly suffered during apartheid, leading to language shift to English
among part of the Coloured population. Banda recommends that
literacies in local languages and in English should supplement each

Angelina Nduku Kioko and Margaret Jepkirui Muthwii examine the issue
of ''English Variety for the Public Domain in Kenya: Speaker's
Attitudes and Views'' (pp. 34-49), their incentive being constituted
by the fact that ''when speakers' attitudes are known and well
understood, language planning and implementation ... is better
achieved'' (p. 36). Drawing on a sample of subjects from five
different ethnic groups, Kioko and Muthwii sought to establish for
different domains which variety of English was the preferred one. With
minor differences between the ethnic groups and according to urban or
rural setting, a non-ethnically marked educated Kenyan variety of
English was preferred over native varities as well as ethnically
marked (i.e., L1-influenced) ones. This empirical study confirms the
observation made by Kembo-Sure in the same volume (see below) that a
Kenyan Standard English is currently establishing itself.

The topic of Roni Sonaiya's contribution is ''The Globalisation of
Communication and the African Foreign Language User'' (pp. 50-58). The
main argument is that Africans need to come to terms with their past
and accept the functional value of the continued use of European
languages on the continent. However, only languages freely chosen
stand a chance of promoting understanding among the peoples of the
world. In order to enhance communication, communication skills have to
be specifically taught but they should be seen as applicable in
specific contexts only. Paul M. Musau raises the highly relevant issue
of ''Linguistic Human Rights in Africa: Challenges and Prospects for
Indigenous Languages in Kenya'' (pp. 59-68). Taking Kenya as an
example, Musau concludes that the implementation of linguistic human
rights in multilingual African countries is very difficult and maybe
even impossible in many of them considering the enormous financial
challenge it constitutes. This is why language planning has to make
part of governments' overall long-term planning (p. 67). In Kenya,
linguistic human rights stand for the right to use at least three
languages which have to be adequately developed: one's L1, the
language of wider communication Kiswahili and the official language
English. The foundations for the predominance of English which
continues to manifest itself in the educational system, the media,
book publishing and any domain where socioeconomic mobility is to be
expected were laid during the colonial period. Musau considers that
the enhancement of the status of Kiswahili in the educational domain
in Kenya over the past years constitutes an example for the fact that
''favourable policy ... can boost the fortunes of a language''
(p. 62). As far as the mother tongues are concerned, the
implementation of such policies as the recommendation to use them as
mediums of instruction from grade one to three face serious problems:
while there are over 40 languages in Kenya, instructional materials
have been developed only for 22 of them (ibid.). Musau rightly remarks
that ''At the moment there appears to be a tendency for university
research to treat these [unstandardised African] languages as sources
of data for testing linguistic theories'' (p. 63) while too little is
being done in terms of developing them in the sense of producing
pedagogical materials, etc. This point is only too valid for many
other language groups/families as well.

Rosalie Finlayson and Sarah Slabbert report on a (pilot) literary
competition devised to encourage urban South African secondary school
students to use their primary languages and to gather data for the
development and analysis of oral and literary texts for wider use in
urban schools ('''What turns you on!': An Exploration of Urban south
African Xhosa and Zulu Youth Texts''; pp. 69-76). Such initiatives are
needed because in spite of the progressive language policy of post-
apartheid South Africa which conveyed official status to nine
indigenous languages in addition to English and Afrikaans, the
standard varieties of the African languages differ substantially from
the language use in multilingual urban settings. The authors suggest
that texts produced in such urban varieties could be used in the
curricula of both schools and universities (p. 75) and they also seem
to imply that this kind of endeavors could contribute towards the
''effective and continuous restandardisation'' which they consider
''one of the key processes in the development of the previously
disadvantaged and marginalised official languages in South Africa''
(p. 69).

Robinah Kyeyune discusses the ''Challenges of Using English as a
medium of Instruction in Multilingual Contexts: A View from Ugandan
Classrooms'' (pp. 77-88). Making the multilingualism of Ugandan
classrooms his main point, Kyeyune argues against mother tongue
education and, to a certain extent, even against bilingual education.
Although ''students often lack the mastery required for them to cope
with the demands of learning through the English medium'' (p. 82),
Kyeyune still recommends English as the only viable medium of
instruction. According to him, bilingual options should imply
teachers' awareness of the learners' deficiencies in using English
rather than the use of any particular mother tongue (p. 83; this
corresponds more or less to the accommodation programs as outlined by
Siegel 1999). He admits that ''there is no shortage of suggested
benefits of [the] mother-tongue medium'' (ibid.) but goes on to claim
that the benefits of English as a medium are equally
numerous. Although he cites references to literature, many if not most
educationalists and language rights activists may find this hard to
digest. Admittedly, Kyeyune calls for ''case- studies of bilingual
instruction, devoting these to clear, systematic documentation of the
realities of this practice'' (p. 85).  Wale Adegbite's paper
(''Enlightenment and Attitudes of the Nigerian Elite on the Roles of
Languages in Nigeria''; pp. 89-100) is another plea for the
recognition of the complementarity of ex-colonial languages such as
English and indigenous African languages. He considers that
enlightenment and awareness campaigns should first target the critical
elite before addressing the masses. Adegbite reports on a study of the
language attitudes of university students participating in an
awareness-raising lecture course and concludes that the information
conveyed during the course radically changed students' attitudes in
the sense that they were much more favourable towards their mother
tongues after the course.

In his contribution ''Establishing a National Standard and English
Language Curriculum Change in Kenya'' (pp. 101-115), Kembo-Sure
essentially makes the same point as Kioko and Muthwii in their paper
(see above), i.e., that a Kenyan standard of English as spoken by
''educated and articulate'' Kenyans (p. 105) has to be recognized, but
takes it a step further by arguing that this standard must be catered
for in curriculum design. The same applies to the existing indigenous
languages. Kembo-Sure makes an interesting point by stating that code-
switching is not only considered a feature of good speech and writing
but that it should be employed and encouraged by the schools as well
(p. 111). This is most innovative when considering that teachers
traditionally have viewed code-switching as evidence for the lack of
dominance of any of the two or more languages in question and have
been hard pressed by linguists to change their views at all.

Mompoloki M. Bagwasi describes ''The Functional Distribution of
Setswana and English in Botswana'' (pp. 116-121).  In the terms of
Fasold (1984), Botswana is a double overlapping diglossia without
(extensive) bilingualism where both the national language Setswana,
spoken by 80% of the population as a mother tongue, and the official
language English, some sort of knowledge of which is estimated at
35-40%, are occasionally used in official situations and as mediums of
instruction in schools (p.118). However, in Botswana, too, English is
the language of economic mobility. One of the many consequences has
been the reduction of the number of years during which Setswana is to
be used as the medium of instruction from five to two in 1994. But in
practice the majority of children go to schools where Setswana is the
medium of instruction until seventh grade (p. 119). As a solution to
this dismal situation, Bagwasi advocates bilingualism (p. 121). He
reports that a national standard English is emerging in Botswana as
well (p. 120).  Anna M. Kishe makes the case for ''Kiswahili as
Vehicle of Unity and Development in the Great Lakes Region''
(pp. 122-134). In recent years, the region made up by the countries
Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic
of Congo has made worldwide headlines as a major conflict herd. Kishe
argues that the continued use of (neo-)colonial languages ''has
inevitably led to disunity'' (p. 124) and has fostered ''foreign
thought'' (p. 125; Sapir and Whorf are apparently still around). She
proposes that Kiswahili, the de facto lingua franca of the region be
empowered to serve as an integrating force in the unification and the
development of the region. Stating that Kiswahili has been used as a
written language of art, literature and commerce since the beginning
of the twentieth century (p. 128) obscures the fact that Kiswahili has
been a literary language since at least the early eighteenth century
albeit the works produced before the early twentieth century were
written in Arabic script. Likewise, the affirmation that ''its
flexible structure (agglutinating) not only provides room for it to
adapt to social changes thereby expanding further, but also gives it
the ability to assimilate and incorporate into its structure
linguistic forms from other languages and particularly scientific
terminology'' (p. 129) does not seem exactly scientific, to take up
the term of the quote, and stands in outright contradiction to the
reminder that ''It should be realised that any language is capable of
meeting the demands placed on it provided that it is given the
opportunity to do so with clear language-planning policies''
(p. 130). In many cases, the in itself laudable recommendation that
decision-makers, linguists and language planners should work together
in partnership (p. 130) represents above all wishful
thinking. Finally, when discussing the current status of Kiswahili,
mentioning not only that it is one of the official languages of the
OAU (only since 2002!) or that it is taught to such and such extent in
the individual countries of the Great Lakes region but also that it is
taught as a degree course in universities in places like Beijing,
Japan and Finland among others seems to reveal a dependence on that
very foreign thought criticized above. Nonetheless, the main point
made by Kishe is more than valid.

G.O. Simire's contribution ''Developing and Promoting Multilingualism
in Public Life and Society in Nigeria'' (pp. 135-147) is an insitent
plea for multilingualism and for the development of the indigenous
languages of Nigeria. Although the codes of wider communication should
be more strongly promoted, all Nigerian languages should be eventually
standardised and ''streamlin[ed] ... to meet with modern needs while
at the same time purging them of regional peculiarities as well as
foreign impurities'' (p. 144; sic).The subchapter on Nigerian Pidgin
English (pp. 139-140) constituted the most interesting part of the
paper for me. Although Simire admits that Nigerian Pidgin English is
much more widely used than any of the three national codes (Hausa,
Igbo, Yoruba; ibid.), he does not make any explicit recommendations to
enhance its status. This is not too surprising considering the
attitudes towards NPE (cf., e.g., Mann 2001).

In the last paper of the collection, Modoupe M. Alimi and Sibonile
Ellece discuss ''Course Design and Testing in an English Programme''
(pp.148-156). The examination of whether course aims, contents and
objectives as well as teaching, learning and evaluation are in line is
based on written and oral data from the English Department of the
University of Botswana. This paper strangely comforts a European
reader like myself who grapples with the demands of the university
enterprise of the 21st century where, as the authors state,
''excellence is the watchword'' (p. 154). However, in spite of the
accuracy of the discussion of the fairly limited data this is the
paper which least fits into the general frame of the volume under
survey. This is doubtlessly why it was put last by the editors. The
volume contains a Table of Contents (p. v). There is no Index or
summary information on the authors but affiliation and correspondence
addresses are indicated at the beginning and at the end of each paper,


As stated by the editors, ''the volume's major asset lies in the
diversity of topics, the range of languages and the African
geographical areas covered'' (p. 1). This is perhaps not quite true:
there is not a single paper dealing with so-called Francophone or
Lusophone Africa which would have nicely completed the picture as
language issues were dealt with quite differently by the three main
colonial powers, something which among other things has contributed to
different realities today. The relative diversity of the papers
alluded to by the editors makes the collection quite heterogeneous as
far as the topic, quality and philosophy/ideology of the papers are
concerned.  This may not find unanimous approval by all readers,
especially those interested in specific issues. As a matter of fact,
it seems that the general public of those interested in the sociology
of language per se is being catered for at least as much as the
Africanist readership. On the other hand, the fact that no such
ideology as ''indigenous African languages should replace neocolonial
languages in public life or at least be warranted parity'' can be
interpreted as a plea for freedom of speech and plurality of views on
the part of the editors. The volume under survey makes most
interesting reading and it certainly is ''a fresh quest''.


Bamgbose, Ayo (1991): Language and the Nation. The Language Question
in Sub-Saharan Africa. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Bamgbose, Ayo (2000): Language and Exclusion. The Consequences of
Language Policies in Africa. Münster, Hamburg & London: LIT.

Fasold, Ralph (1984): The Sociolinguistics of Society. Oxford:

Mann, Charles (2001): Towards a theory of language attitudes: Findings
on Angola-Nigeria Pidgin. Paper presented at the SPCL Conference in
Coimbra, June 26-27, 2001.

Siegel, Jeff (1999): Creoles and minority dialects in education. An
overview. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 20:6,


Dr.phil. Angela Bartens is Acting chair of Iberoromance Philology at
the University of Helsinki. Her research interests include language
contact including pidgins and creoles, sociolinguistics and applied
sociolinguistics including language policy and language planning.


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